Thursday, February 26, 2009

Unravel Strength Training's Mysteries

Starting a strength-training program can be an incredibly empowering, and an incredibly confusing experience. There are many myths about what strength training can and cannot do for you. Here, shake out the untruths and get some real answers about strength training.

Untruth: Strength training ads bulk to women.

Truth: Lifting weights increases the amount of lean muscle mass and can decrease body fat in women. A May, 1998 article in The Physician and Sports Medicine states: 'strength training results in significant increases in strength, no change or a decrease in lower-body girths, and a very small increase in upper-extremity girth.' Because lean muscle burns fat, you're likely to decrease in overall size through strength training.

Untruth: Strength training may be good for strengthening bone and muscle tissue, but it doesn't strengthen the heart.

Truth: Strength training produces a wallop of benefits to your heart. Research has found that strength training can reduce LDL ('bad') cholesterol levels. Some studies have also found that strength training reduces blood pressure. Finally, the stronger muscles that strength-training produces can help prevent overexertion, like in moving heavy objects or shoveling snow.

Untruth: Strength training reduces your flexibility.

Truth: 'If you work through a full range of motion in your strength training program, you can actually increase your flexibility,' says Cheryl Milson, exercise physiologist and president of Premier Health Enhancement Programs in Los Angeles. If you use your joints through the full extent of an exercise, you'll build flexibility rather than lose it.

Untruth: Strength training isn't effective for weight loss, only building mass.

Truth: As you may well know by now, the muscle that strength training builds boosts your calorie-burning rate (your metabolism) throughout the day. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn just to exist. When combined with aerobic exercise (for a bigger per-bout calorie burn), strength training is an excellent activity to aid in weight loss.

Untruth: The more crunches you do, the flatter your stomach will get.

Truth: Crunches alone won't get you a washboard stomach, you need to be vigilant with your entire fitness program to see the results of your abdominal strength training. 'Abdominal muscles get flatter with nutrition and cardiovascular exercise [combined with strengthening the muscles],' says Michael Wilson, an exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer in New York City. If you strengthen your abs and there is fat on top of them, they will become stronger, but won't appear as defined as they will on a leaner body. If you're faithful to your aerobic routine and a low fat diet, you can reduce your overall body fat percentage and gain greater abdominal muscle visibility (not to mention a trimmer middle).

Tip: to keep getting stronger, don't just do more crunches, change to a tougher exercise. 'Choose an exercise that's more challenging,' says Wilson, 'if you normally do crunches on the floor, move up to incline crunches.' If you can do 25 crunches (on the floor) without difficulty, it's time to challenge yourself.

Untruth: If you build muscle through strength training and then stop, all that new muscle will turn to fat.

Truth: Muscle and fat are two completely different forms of body tissue, one can't turn into the other. However, you are in danger of adding fat if you stop strength training and don't reduce your caloric intake. In the absence of regular strength training, muscles will shrink, and as a result your body will burn calories at a slower rate, which will result in an acquisition of fat.